Petitions in Timmins are calling for local leaders to address safety in the city.
A hard-copy petition created by the Timmins Safety Coalition (TSC) is asking to create a safe environment for Timmins residents and downtown businesses. Another petition, circulating online, is calling for Living Space’s executive director Jason Sereda to resign. The petitions have prompted a response from the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB) in support of the Living Space executive director.
The TSC's petition also demands accountability with tax dollars and asks Mayor George Pirie to take action.
“Just say, ‘Hey, we hear you, we’re aware of the issue, it may be misconstrued but let’s work together and figure this out,’” said Kerri Blais, a co-founder of the TSC. “And not collecting data and talking about it and having continuous meetings, that’s just tiresome and people don’t want to hear that anymore.”
The petition has about 2,000 signatures so far. The hard copies are currently available at Lemongrass and Bermuda Tan.
“It’s not creating panic, it’s not the intention [of the petition],” Blais said. “The more awareness we have, the more people can be cautious when they go out.”
In a letter released Nov. 17, Brian Marks, chair of Living Space’s board of directors and CDSSAB CAO, said the issues of opioid crisis, theft and assaults existed before Living Space.
“Timmins was in damage control before Living Space existed,” he said in the letter. “By making faulty assumptions, the purveyors of the petition dismiss all of the ground that has been gained over the past two years in bringing agencies together to address these complicated issues.”
Marks expressed his support for Sereda and personnel at Living Space, saying the existing issues are not the fault of Living Space or any single organization in the city.
He said the organization serves people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless but the staff has never “recruited or transported” homeless people to Timmins.
“Living Space is an idea and construct which is bigger than a single individual or organization,” Marks wrote. “It is the co-ordination of service agencies to prevent and end homelessness including leveraging opioid addiction services, police services, mental health services and other services while offering emergency shelter accommodations.”
Blais noted the TSC petition is not directed towards anyone and they are not asking to close the shelter or remove anyone from a position.
“We need the resources and they’re so limited here. The more people join us, the more we can help those that need it. This is about getting help for all of those,” Blais said. “If we knew where the help was needed, we could all go and represent our community and say, ‘We need help, what do we have to do?’ There are a lot of people willing to do that.”
The group was planning to hold a demonstration today (Nov. 20) but it was cancelled. Blais said the group is thinking of taking the petition to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) next spring.
Lemongrass owner Sonya Biemann, who was attacked near her downtown store in August, said she’s still suffering from anxiety and short-term memory loss after the incident.
“We don’t want to see this happening on a regular basis with people. We don’t want anybody else going through this ordeal,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody’s still safe, not just in downtown Timmins, but all over Timmins. We don’t want to be held hostage anymore in our city.”
At Timmins council, there have been regular updates regarding community safety since the summer.
Last month, Dr. Julie Samson and Dr. Louisa Marion-Bellemare talked about the staggeringly high rate of overdose deaths in the city and shared their vision on how to address it. One of the points they noted in their presentation is that there had been no access to safe beds this year.
At the Nov. 10 council meeting, CAO Dave Landers said the Jubilee Centre in Timmins had reopened two safe beds.